You know that feeling when you know you’re forgetting something but can’t quite put your finger on it? That happened to me last night when I made a beef stir-fry and vegetable stir-fry that I’ve done many times before. The recipe, adapted over the years from the Cook’s Illustrated book “Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs,” is fairly simple to make and always imparts a lot of flavor.
I had already left out two ingredients – fresh ginger and red pepper – because I didn’t have them and wasn’t about to venture out in the bitter cold (we’re talking -20s before wind chill). But as I sat down to eat my dinner, I knew immediately something else was missing. What was it?
I’ll give you a clue: it’s a bulb… very aromatic… often induces tears… Any guesses? Bueller, Bueller?
Fine, here’s the answer: onion! It was right there, sitting on the counter just steps away from where I was working. I left out the onion? Who does that? It’s only the most common ingredient in just about all cuisines. No wonder my stir-fry was lacking. Seriously, bad Jackie (crap, now I’m yelling at myself in the third person – that really can’t be good).
Moral of the story: beef stir-fry without onion is edible but nothing special; beef stir-fry with onion makes the world go ’round.
Here’s the recipe WITH onion and the rest of the forgotten ingredients:
Beef & Vegetable Stir-Fry (serves 4)
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt and pepper
1 pound flank steak or boneless sirloin, cut across the grain in 1/4-inch thick slices
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons cold water
1 large head broccoli, florets separated, stalk peeled and sliced thin*
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1/4 pound shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
To prepare the beef: In a bowl mix together the soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the beef and toss to coat evenly. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Make the sauce while the beef is marinating by combining the soy sauce, broth, sesame oil, mirin and sugar in a small bowl. Combine the corn starch and water in a separate bowl; mix well and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and also fill a bowl with ice water. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender. Remove the broccoli from the boiling water and submerge in an ice bath. Repeat with the broccoli stalks. Drain all the broccoli from the ice bath once cold and set aside.
By now the beef should be done marinating. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large pan or walk over high heat. Add half the beef and cook until seared on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove from the beef from the pan and set aside. Repeat with remaining beef.
Decrease the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion and cook for another minute, then stir in the red pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the pepper and onion are beginning to soften, about 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook for an additional two minutes, then pour in the sauce. Stir the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits and increase the heat to high. Add the broccoli and beef.
Once the liquid comes to a boil, pour in the cornstarch and water mixture (you’ll want to remix this first). Stir well. Simmer until the liquid has thickened, then serve over rice or noodles.
*The stalk is my favorite part of the broccoli. Slice or peel the tough and fibrous exterior, then thinly slice the softer and very flavorful interior. It delicious and doesn’t get stuck in your teeth.